Staffing firm Kelly brings employment discrimination to life through kids’ eyes

Credit: Kelly
Credit: Kelly

A new campaign portrays how standard hiring policies put thousands of capable workers at a disadvantage.

Most U.S. businesses require employees to have a four-year college degree and a spotless criminal record in order to be considered for a position.

But in a country where nearly one in three adults, or 70 million people, have a criminal infraction, and just 36% of citizens have a bachelor’s degree, these policies are locking capable workers out of making a career and a living. And that’s no longer tenable as the world faces a talent shortage.

Global workforce solutions provider Kelly wants to change that, in partnership with its agency of record Erich Kallman. The $5 billion firm, which helps Fortune 100 brands recruit and hire temporary and full-time workers, released a campaign that provokes people to think about the issue differently by putting it in the context of a child’s perspective.

In the spot, a teacher stands in front of a classroom and asks her students what they want to be when they grow up, only to shut them down with the realities of workplace discrimination.

One boy, for instance, says he wants to be a teacher, to which she responds, “less than 2% of teachers are Black men, so the chances of you becoming one aren’t very high, are they?” Another boy says, “I want to be a scientist,” to which the teacher replies, “Not with a criminal record, you won’t.”

When a girl says, “I want to be in the army, and then a businesswoman,” the teacher reminds her that “you won’t have a college degree, which a lot of jobs require. So even if you’re a veteran with a lot of skills, they won’t even consider you.”

The campaign is intentionally provocative in a bid to wake people up to an issue they often don’t think about, said Kelly CMO Pete Boland.

“We knew it would be provocative and strong to see this through the eyes of children, who are the most impressionable and vulnerable members of society,” he said. “And it probably makes people mad.”

The campaign, which will run digitally and on local TV in Southeastern Michigan, where Kelly is based in the U.S., supports an initiative called Equity@Work the staffing firm launched to change the way companies think about hiring talent. The spot calls on viewers to visit equityatwork.com to learn more.

In addition to helping clients overcome systemic hiring barriers, Equity@Work included an overhaul of Kelly’s own hiring practices to support the 33% of Americans who have a criminal background and to hire more veterans, people with autism and other groups that often don’t have four-year college degrees.

Kelly also stopped asking candidates about their previous salaries to prevent locking them in at a low rate — a practice that most often affects women.

“There are thousands of people across the world who get locked out of work for reasons that seem so wrong and outdated,” Boland said. “When you put someone to work, whether they are a top-end scientist, teacher or factory worker, it can change the trajectory of their life and their families’ lives.”

Kelly will continue to work with global clients such as Johnson & Johnson and Toyota, which are making strides in implementing more equitable hiring practices, Boland said. He added that, since the social justice movement last summer, companies are waking up to the importance of DE&I and equity at work and are seeking help to rebalance their workforces.

From a marketing perspective, Kelly will continue to tell stories about people who landed at jobs where they typically would not have been considered, and have been able to thrive.

“Once they're in, they often prove to be extremely capable employees who become leaders,” Boland said. “In a moment where we're so short on talent and the labor force is shrinking, [companies have] got to open up to talent that has been cut out.”

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